Happy, Healthy, and Smart Holidays: Strategies That Will Keep You On Track With Clean Nutrition Through the Gluttony of the Festivities

Let me set the stage for you…

When I walk into my family’s house on any holiday, the aromas of basil and garlic, baking bread, boiling pasta, roasting meat, and baking pies welcome me home. My mom is buzzing around the kitchen like a hummingbird, covered in flour, egg yolk, and Lord knows what else. As she dashes hither and thither attending to all five burners and the oven, she is simultaneously asking if I’m hungry and what she can make me for a snack. Though she’s not actually Italian, my Mom has thoroughly mastered Italian cuisine and with it, the notion of food as love.

Home is a place of bountiful love and food, where it is easy to consume thousands of calories worth of delicious food, then pass out on the couch in front of the Patriots game. This is particularly true on holidays, where it seems to be even more socially acceptable to gorge oneself. As I have become more mindful of food and its effects on the human body, I often find myself torn between wanting to fit in with my family and wanting to feel good. I also know from experience that if I eat what everyone else does, I will end up in a brain fog with a bloated belly, nasal congestion, and probably joint pain. Hence, the internal conflict in which we all find ourselves at the holidays: how to engage in the festivities and still take care of ourselves.

In this workshop, we will be introducing three strategies for planning ahead for the holidays:

  • Mindfulness: keeping in mind what’s really important during this chaotic time of year
  • Planning: what to do and not do before attending a holiday celebration
  • Compensating: what to do if you overdo it

Strategy #1: Mindfulness and Not Getting Caught Up in the Holiday Frenzy

During the chaos of the holidays, it is easy to lose track of what’s important. We get so caught up in the buying of presents, the planning of parties, worrying about what everyone is doing, that we forget to pay attention to what the holidays are actually about: being with our loved ones. Contrary to popular belief, being with our loved ones at the holidays does not necessarily have to involve wracking up massive credit card bills or gorging ourselves on food. In fact, some of my favorite holidays have been in lean times, when there was no option for expensive presents and the focus of family and friend time became a simple meal, or a walk in the snow or singing Christmas carols together.

Corporate America WANTS you to get carried away at the holidays, buying and consuming more stuff than you can actually afford. Having mindfulness on a consumer level will translate into mindfulness on a culinary level. It’s all about simplifying and reducing stress.

Strategy #2: Have a Plan

Okay, so you’ve got a holiday celebration to attend. Let’s think this through:

Who is hosting? Will there be healthy choices for food?

Are we hungry or calorie deprived or craving sugar and setting ourselves up for disaster?

These are the questions we need to ask ourselves in order to anticipate difficult situations. Should we identify a potentially danger-ridden nutrition situation that we would like to participate in socially, here are some good ideas for reducing the chances of ending up regretting our decisions:

  • Go fed, if only minimally, with low-Glycemic Index foods: having a meal of protein, good fat, and fiber a couple of hours before socializing will ensure that your blood sugar is stable and the Christmas cookies aren’t as appetizing.
  • Bring some “clean” junk food to share: there are tons of recipes out there (see the end of the presentation for resources). Though it is not encouraged to eat even “clean” junk food mindlessly, it is a good strategy for holiday parties so that one doesn’t feel as if one is making a sacrifice.
  • Do NOT plan a massive workout prior to a holiday celebration: though a minimal daily workout is fine, engaging in activity that will cause you to be in a major calorie deficit is not a good idea. The danger here is getting into the “I already worked out, so I can eat whatever looks good” mentality. Even in the most intense of workouts, you will burn under 1,000 calories, while the average food binge involves many, many more calories than that. So, be mindful of your calorie deficit when heading out merry-making.

Strategy #3: Have a Plan B

Let’s say you ignore your better instincts or have your inhibition revoked by too many alcoholic libations and you wake up the next day with a belly full of regrets. Most of us (myself included) have been there. Instead of riding the wave and making gluttony your “new” normal for the holidays and waking up on January 1st to find you don’t fit into your jeans anymore and you feel like crap, break the cycle at this point.

The easy way to do this is with fasting. Our GI tracts and blood sugar balance are actually built to withstand periods of feast and famine and so will tolerate fasting after gorging very well. Water-fast for a day. If feeling ambitious or excessively repentant, you can fast for two days or extend it into a longer juice-fast between holidays. If choosing the juice-fast route, stick with low-glycemic index juice ingredients such as celery, spinach, kale, parsley with an occasional carrot or half a green apple thrown in for a little blood sugar boost.

Lastly…Reign it in After the Hullabaloo

It’s always a good idea to start off the New Year with a cleanse to solidify your commitment to yourself and your health. More on options for New Year’s cleanses in our next workshop on 12/12…BE THERE!!!

Resources for “Clean” Holiday Junk Food

Google “Paleo” anything and you will get a selection of low-glycemic Index, whole-foods versions of your old holiday favorites.